She gave nothing but evasive answers when she was grilled by senators in November last year, but this time, Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged brains of the pork barrel scam, is ready to tell all, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
De Lima made the disclosure after a five-hour huddle with Napoles at the Ospital ng Makati (OsMak) on Tuesday.
In a news briefing, the Justice chief said threats may have driven Napoles to decide to break her silence. She added that the businesswoman and members of her family have received the death threats to stop her from revealing details about the misuse of the pork barrel of lawmakers.
“She realizes that the more she keeps silent, and does not say anything, the more she is at risk,” de Lima said.
She admitted that the Department of Justice (DOJ) can “squeeze” more information from Napoles that should boost the plunder and graft complaints against several lawmakers and their staff and other personalities.
According to the Justice chief, Napoles sought an audience with her two weeks ago, but it was only on Monday night when she agreed to meet the businesswoman who was set to undergo surgery last night to remove a cyst in her uterus.
“I am confirming the fact that I visited Mrs. Napoles last night at OsMak, and this is because of her request starting two weeks ago,” de Lima told reporters.
She said Napoles signified her intention to talk through an emissary.
“At first I did not oblige. She sent an emissary, requesting that we talk. I told her that I will only be allowed to talk to her on the condition that she will tell all, that she should be truthful, and she will tell everything,” according to the Justice chief.
“She agreed with the conditions so I agreed to see her. She was actually pleading that we talk even before the Holy Week,” she said.
According to de Lima, Napoles wanted to become a state witness but the DOJ
is yet to “review and evaluate” the businesswoman’s request.
Their discussion on Monday that stretched until early dawn was put on paper, however. Napoles later signed her written testimony, which according to de Lima, contained more details about the pork barrel scam.
“There are more details, more information from Mrs. Napoles, but not everything. Mrs. Napoles appears to know these things. But I cannot share with you the details,” de Lima said in a news briefing.
She admitted that Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada were tagged in the statement made by Napoles.
According to de Lima, Napoles showed documentary evidence that will provide valuable information and may boost the plunder case filed against several respondents, among them Revilla, Enrile and Estrada.
It was not clear whether Napoles implicated more senators in the pork barrel scam during her meeting with de Lima.
The Justice chief, however, clarified that there is no deal yet accepting Napoles as a state witness.
“There is no commitment to make her a state witness. My only commitment is that we will study [her offer]very seriously and exhaustively so we will know what steps to take and if she can be accepted as a state witness,” de Lima said.
The lawyer of Napoles, Bruce Rivera, confirmed that his client had decided to tell all that she knows about the pork barrel fund scam and that she is not really after becoming a state witness.
“She talked to Secretary de Lima without that in mind. Maybe she is just afraid of her sickness,” Rivera told reporters.
He also admitted arranging the meeting between the two women.
“The meeting was just a conversation and her [Napoles] statement was taken,” he said.
“There was an affidavit, as a lawyer I can’t divulge the content because I was the one who assisted her in executing the affidavit so I can’t tell you, until my principal tells me to do so,” Rivera added.
He said Napoles was happy after meeting with de Lima.
“She has been trying to talk to her for the longest time and she was given the opportunity to talk to her,” Rivera added.
But even if there is no decision yet to admit Napoles into the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) , some lawmakers believe that making her a state witness would be an injustice.
House Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list, House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list, as well as Reps. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list, Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list, Frednil Castro of Capiz and Ibarra Gutierrez of Akbayan party-list said they will oppose any move by the Department of Justice to admit Napoles into the WPP.
“We will oppose this move, considering that Janet Napoles is one of the main culprits in the pork barrel scam. This would be a clear travesty of justice. She should be punished because of her crimes against the people,” Colmenares stressed.
Napoles is under hospital arrest for serious illegal detention. The complaint was filed by her cousin and former employee, Benhur Luy.
Luy pointed to Napoles as the architect of the scheme wherein lawmakers funneled part of their priority development assistance fund (PDAF) to fake non-government organizations or foundations. Many of these groups were founded or controlled by Napoles.
“The Aquino administration should not make Napoles a state witness because it would seem that there was already a quid pro quo between them,” Colmenares said.
Tugna and Batocabe agreed, noting that Napoles’s entry to the prosecution team would do more harm than good.
“It would be hard for the prosecution to have her as a state witness because of what has been said about her by other whistleblowers such as Luy and Ruby Tuason, among others.
A person is qualified as a state witness if there is no other direct evidence against the other accused except the testimony of the accused applying to be a state witness and the accused does not appear to be the most guilty. Being involved in the helmet and fertilizer fund scams, she will fail in such a requirement,” Tugna said.
“[Justice] Secretary [Leila] de Lima did the right thing by not committing to take Napoles as state witness. Otherwise, there will be a cacophony of contradicting testimonies,” Batocabe said.
“The basic requirement for a state witness is to be not the most guilty. Clearly, she [Napoles] is the most guilty as she was the principal conspirator together with other public officials. Without her, the plunder would not have been completed,” Ridon said
Castro and Gutierrez believed that Napoles’s testimony would only be corroborative.
“There is no urgent necessity to admit Napoles as a state witness because there are already numerous [pieces of]evidence, both testimonial and documentary, which are already in the disposition of the court,” Castro told reporters.
Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan and Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers also believed that Napoles should be tried. “She is the principal in the case, not the accessory. The government’s case could be jeopardized [with her as state witness]. It would turn the whole thing into a circus,” Bello stressed.
“It would be an utter travesty of justice if she is admitted as a state witness. Absolutely, she should have no immunity [from charges],” Tinio said.
But to other legislators, the testimony of Napoles will be vital to the case.
“Napoles’ full disclosure will be the final nail to the coffin in the pork barrel issue. If she becomes a state witness, she can provide a first-hand account of the whole scam. Her turning as a state witness instead of delaying the resolution of the cause would expedite things,” Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas, chairman of the House Committee on Games and Amusements, said.
“If Napoles will tell all, why not [make her a state witness]? To my mind, she is not the most guilty. She was just used by those who abused the PDAF. It is judgment time for all those who are involved in the scam,” Rep. Silvestre Bello 3rd of 1-BAP party-list, who served as Justice secretary during the Arroyo administration, said in a text message.
With Llanesca T. Panti